KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — U.S. Representative Tim Burchett (TN-02) is calling on Congress to pass a bill he introduced earlier this year known as the Fentanyl Traffic Elimination Act. It’s an effort to bring forward more serious penalties after a smuggler is caught.

“It really is going after the drug cartels and the heavy pushers that are doing it, and if they’re caught it increases their criminal penalty to life in prison,” Burchett said. “You hit them hard, and you hit a few of them and they’ll start squealing and they’ll move to something else and that’s kind of what we’re hoping,” he said.

Tennessee ranks fifth in the country for overdose deaths, and overdoses involving fentanyl has only increased. The executive director of the Metro Drug Coalition, Karen Pershing, said it’s not slowing down.

“It’s really gotten out of hand and it only takes a small amount to cause someone to have respiratory depression and to possibly die from this,” Pershing said.

The CDC says nearly 106,000 people across the country died from drug overdoses in the last year. The agency goes on to report that this rise is largely driven by illicit fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which is why Rep. Burchett wants the bill to pass sooner rather than later in hopes of saving lives and to stop the ones who are causing the problem.

“These people are terrorists. They are bringing a weapon in,” Burchett said. “There’s enough you can fit it on the nail of my thumb to kill a thousand people easily,” he said. “We’ve got a real problem so we’re going to have to address it.

Pershing also said one thing the coalition is seeing locally is an increase in fake pills that have fentanyl pressed into them. She’s warning parents especially to speak with their kids to make sure they are aware and not taking pills from anyone not registered to distribute them, even if it’s a friend.

The Metro Drug Coalition is also opening a new recovery community center Friday, Sept. 23. They will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Anyone seeking recovery or are early in the recovery process and need a safe space or support services can reach out to the organization.